January 30, 2023 5 Min Read
Leader Transparency with Coach Shari Jo Watkins
We associate being transparent as a property of a glass windowpane or of cellophane food wrap. If an object is transparent, you can clearly see things on the other side of it by looking through that object. So, what does it mean to be transparent as a leader?
Light does not pass through you; however, you can share information openly, speak the truth clearly, and offer your opinion honestly. This is the way in which we speak of a transparent leader. Given competition, legal restrictions, and human resources guidelines, can a leader be transparent 100% of the time? Maybe not, but we should strive to be transparent whenever it’s appropriate.
What We Mean By Transparency
Being transparent is about how we choose to interact with others. Those interactions are characterized by sharing relevant information, being open to giving and receiving feedback, being forthcoming regarding motives and the reasoning behind decisions, and displaying alignment between words and actions. Coach Shari Jo puts it this way; “We always have a choice as to what we say and don’t say. The biggest challenge lies in the fact that all too often we choose to say nothing simply because we are unsure how to convey the information in a manner that is both professional and kind.”
Think of a time when a change occurred, or a decision was made, and you felt “left in the dark” or “out-of-the-loop” as to why the change was happening or why the decision was made. This is an example of less than full transparency. Think about how that made you feel. According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, there’s a 58% drop in one’s perceived standing in a group, if they feel left out due to a lack of transparency. On the other hand, when a leader is transparent, followers come to know what the leader values and stands for, and that the leader understands who they are as well. Coach Shari Jo calls this a mutually beneficial exchange.
What Transparency In A Leader Looks Like
Imagine the following scenario: The economy is moving into a recession which is slowing demand for products and services. Several other companies in the industry have announced hiring freezes or lay-offs. Employees are worried that a reduction in force is imminent.
Leading with transparency in this example might call for vulnerability and risk-taking in allowing your team to know the plan and being forthcoming about motives and reasons behind decisions taken. The leader should allow those impacted to voice opinions or concerns and respond to those concerns by sharing relevant information that is fact-based. Sometimes, the leader will need to speak from the heart and be comfortable sharing personal values and ethics related to the situation. Sheri Jo reminds us that it’s also very important to remember that anytime you are sharing information the interpretation on the receiving end can vary greatly. As the leader, you must give yourself permission to be misunderstood, sharing that you recognize that possibility and invite questions and clarification.
How To Be More Transparent
If your reaction to this scenario and the transparent response is one of discomfort, or even disbelief, there is a path you can follow to grow and practice the underlying skills. Coach Shari Jo suggests that the first step is to recognize that transparency as a leader is difficult and not as common among leaders as it should be. There may be some behaviors that you should stop doing such as blaming others, hiding bad news or not owning up to accountability as a decision maker. You can start or increase the separation of facts from fiction, rumors or hearsay while grounding the path forward in strategy and business logic. Provide perspective and keep communication open through regular updates.
What’s The Payoff Of Transparency?
Transparency is one of those traits that are fundamental to building trust and followership. It creates psychological safety for those working with the transparent leader. People feel safe if they sense stability in actions and messages. Employees also expect that they have the information they need to be productive and meet goals. For all these reasons leading with transparency, positively impacts work engagement, productivity and commitment to the leader, and the company.
How Do I Start My Journey To Increased Transparency?
Write down three questions that will form the foundation of a 1:1 conversation with a TaskHuman coach about transparent leadership. For example, how can I increase my comfort at being open, or how do I decide on what information to share? Formulating your questions will make for a productive coaching conversation. Then, use the TaskHuman app to connect with a coach – search by topic or name to book an in-app call.
Interested in chatting with Coach Shari Jo Watkins or another leadership coach? Head to the app to book your first session!